Folk store to close in Hanover

by Claudia Bernstein | 4/20/18 2:30am

Earlier this month, Folk — a small retail shop located on Allen Street in downtown Hanover — announced its plans to close at the end of the spring or early summer. Commonly frequented by College alumni, Folk sells a range of jewelry, clothing and other eclectic art pieces.

Cornish resident Ted Degener opened up the business on Allen Street in 1973. Degener thought of the idea to open the shop after traveling to Mexico, Guatemala and other sites in Central and South America and buying pieces of folk art from marketplaces he visited. He began by selling pieces at craft fairs in the US.

“There’s something about the naturalness of folk art that I fell in love with,” Degener said. “It’s got a soulful quality.”

When Degener was visiting friends that attended the Geisel School of Medicine, he “fell in love with the prettiness of the area and decided to open a little store.” He added that the area reminded him of Guatemala because its landscape is “beautifully maintained” by farmers.

Degener said that he believes his store makes a unique contribution to downtown Hanover because it sells rare items like Nepalese textiles, quirky bracelets and earrings.

“When I first came here in the seventies, there was nothing like [the store] at all, [Hanover] was super preppy,” Degener said. “It seemed right to have something that was more ethnically diverse and just a different aesthetic. That’s why I’ve done it for so long … In addition to making a living, I like the idea of promoting a diverse view of the world.”

Degener cited the increasing popularity of online shopping as the major reason for his decision to close the store, explaining that a combination of increasing expenses and a loss of business made it more difficult for his store to turn a profit.

“I actually felt like I had escaped the whole Internet thing that is hurting a lot of stores because my stuff is sort of unusual, but then it came to the point where you can sort of get anything online now,” Degener said.

Hanover area chamber of commerce executive director Tracy Hutchins said the closing of Folk reflects a larger national trend of small businesses being adversely affected by the rise of online shopping. She also explained that the rising cost of maintaining retail space in Hanover is a major factor.

“Certainly one of the pros of doing business in Hanover is that we have a very dynamic downtown atmosphere, in large part because of the College, its presence, its students, staff and the visitors it attracts throughout the year,” Hutchins said. “The flip side of that is we have downtown commercial space in high demand, so the rents reflect that demand. It’s market-driven, so our retailers do have a lot of overhead they have to contend with in order to stay in business.”

Degener said that while he got along well with his landlord, the store’s expenses were so high that it was no longer feasible to stay in business.

“I could’ve modernized and tried to sell stuff online, but the struggle of retail is ultimately what gets you,” he added. Degener also cited his age and desire to pursue other interests as factors in his decision.

Degener mentioned the possibility that another owner would acquire the space and continue operating the store, but noted that the new owner would face the same difficulties that he did.

Norwich resident Delia Nahabedian said she will miss Folk primarily because of its novelty and affordability.

“It was the place my mom and I would go in Hanover if we were ever going to get clothing, or really anything,” she said. “It was very affordable, which is something a lot of stores in Hanover aren’t.”

Nahabedian noted that she even bought her graduation dress at Folk, adding that she thinks “every dress” that she owns is from Folk.

While Degener will no longer be running Folk, he hopes to continue developing his lifelong interest in art, especially “outsider art” — artwork that is created by artists without formal training or connections to the artistic establishment. Degener explained that he is interested in “outsider art” because it is “a field of quirky, self-taught artists.” He also added that he enjoys photographing “outsider artists” as they produce their work.

“I have a little niche in the art photography world,” he said. “I photograph folk artists with their work, mostly in the U.S. now.” Degener added that his portraiture is inspired by old-fashioned documentary photographers, such as Walker Evans.

Degener said that he is sad to be closing Folk, but at the same time grateful for the opportunity to use his free time to travel, pursue his portrait photography and stay at home gardening.